Nashville FCC hearing draws major voices among local media

By KATE HOWARD, Nashville Tennesseean

Several major players in Tennessee's media community testified before the Federal Communications Commission on whether it should ease restrictions on media consolidation.

The hearing at Belmont University was one of six scheduled across the country to gather comments about the way the FCC regulates media ownership. FCC commissioners heard from a panel that included the leaders of several local television stations, newspapers and radio stations.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, spoke against looser rules for media consolidation.

Cooper said relaxed rules on cross-ownership could result in one major company owning two dominant community voices, resulting in less content and fewer reporters. "I do believe any further concentration of ownership would be harmful, and I urge (the FCC) to resist their siren call," Cooper said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wendell Rawls testified that the basic argument of media owners is about money, not good journalism. "(Newspapers are) the only business protected by the Constitution," Rawls said. "That protection was not to guarantee a profit for few, but to guarantee access to information for many."

Those speaking in favor of relaxing media ownership rules, including Tennessean Publisher Ellen Leifeld and Deborah McDermott of WKRN-Channel 2, argued that more flexibility was necessary to compete in a new-media landscape in which consumers have seemingly limitless choices for getting their news.

Leifeld said she didn't believe cross-ownership would result in a less competitive environment, and that the idea that newspapers and TV stations would speak with one voice was contrary to fundamentals of journalistic autonomy. "Despite the emotional rhetoric about big media, at its core local media exists to serve its community," Leifeld said.

article originally published at http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061212/NEWS01/612120346/1....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey